Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Polenta Post

A confession: I love Sunday dinners at home. I love them for a lot of reasons: because I love to cook. Because the cousins get more time to run around and play together. Because I know what’s in the food. I love them because I love to feed people.

So, if I can, I like to plan and cook Sunday dinner. It’s usually Saturday when I start cooking, because trying to cook on Sunday morning makes me late for church. Sometimes Mama joins in the fun, sometimes not.

Last Saturday found me contemplating the recesses of our freezer. I pulled out a roast and made an Italian version of pot roast. The recipe I used calls for serving it with Polenta.

Polenta is made from finely ground cornmeal, so it has the corny flavor of good grits with the smooth texture of cream of wheat. Sauteed onion and cheese swirled in complete the flavor profile. But if you try to explain that southern style, it doesn't come out so well: anyone for some cornmeal mush with fried onions and lotsa parm?

So, on Sunday, some of my family had polenta for the first time ever. Because the roast was large, I made a double recipe of polenta--plenty for leftovers, I thought. Or not. My family ate the entire double recipe, and I ended up using pasta with the leftovers for my lunch the next day. (It's just as well; polenta isn't as good when it's left over.)

I changed the recipe just a tad to make it more healthy: I freshly ground the corn (and it's best to make sure your corn is organic--then you know it's free of GMOs), and I soaked the corn in lime water. Lime water is basically water treated with pickling lime to make it acidic, and this helps break down the phytates (indigestible stuff) in corn. I keep a half-gallon jar of lime water in my fridge and pull it out when I need it. When you're making polenta, soaking it in the lime water has the added benefit of a shorter cooking time.

from '93 edition of Joy of Cooking (with modifications)

serves 4-6
1 cup finely ground cornmeal
1 cup lime water
3 T. butter
1/2 c. finely chopped onion
3 cups chicken broth or water (or a mix of the two)
1 t. salt
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
(if you're using the box stuff, use less-- 2T. to 1/4 c.)

  • Place cornmeal and water in a lidded container; stir together until there are no lumps. Cover and let sit at room temperature for several hours (up to 24).
  • In a dutch oven or heavy saucepan, melt butter. Add onion and saute until onion is translucent and just starting to color. Add in broth and water, then add in cornmeal and water mixture. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to a simmer.
  • Let simmer for 20-25 minutes, stirring often enough to make sure it doesn't stick to the bottom. As the polenta thickens, test it for doneness. The finished polenta should be smooth with very little to no grit in the texture.
  • Once polenta is cooked, remove from heat and stir in salt and cheese. (If you want, you could also add extra butter.) Serve with Italian meat sauce, vegetables, or pot roast.

lime water:

a quart or half-gallon glass jar
Pickling Lime

  • Place about half an inch of lime in the bottom of the jar. Fill up the remainder of the jar with filtered water. Let sit until lime settles to the bottom; the remaining liquid is lime water. Use to soak grains, especially cornmeal. As you use it, simply add more water to the jar to make more lime water. Store in the fridge.


Bro Trevor said...

Hrrmm....sounds kinda like grits. Is it better than your "real" grits?

Marie said...

Hmm-- Trevor, I think you would like it better than grits. :)